HIA Stories from the Field
Assessing Proposed Transit-Oriented Developments in Boston’s Historic Roxbury Neighborhood
Health Equity Matters
The neighborhood of Roxbury in Boston, Massachusetts, was once a farming town on the outskirts of Boston. Today, this urban area is the heart of African American culture in Boston and home to over 48,000 residents.
Although this historic neighborhood is being revitalized, much of Roxbury continues to face more equity challenges than other Boston neighborhoods, including
- Limited access to healthy, affordable food
- Higher unemployment
- Lower incomes
Roxbury adults have a higher burden of chronic diseases compared to adults in other Boston communities:
- Asthma: 15% of adults in Roxbury vs. 11% in Boston
- Diabetes: 11% of adults in Roxbury vs. 6% in Boston
- Obesity: 27% of adults in Roxbury vs. 6% in Boston
The Boston Redevelopment Authority’s transit-oriented development (TOD) initiative proposes to build on and reinforce Boston's existing and emerging neighborhood centers. The three Boston Orange Line stations within Roxbury are considered existing neighborhood centers.
TOD can help improve health by reducing congestion, increasing housing choices, and promoting walking and biking to public transit. TOD can also contribute to social and regional equity by increasing neighborhood access to retail, job opportunities, and affordable housing. However, TOD can have negative health impacts on current residents through possible displacement as a result of gentrification.
The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC) created the Healthy Neighborhoods Equity Fund (HNEF), a $30 million private equity fund, to invest in mixed-income/mixed-use real estate projects in neighborhoods like Roxbury.
HNEF investment projects have the potential to transform neighborhoods, strengthen population and environmental health, and promote regional equity while providing investors with financial and social returns. Before deciding to invest in a project, however, Fund administrators consider the community, environmental, and health benefits of a proposed project as well as the financial risks and returns.
Rapid Health Impact Assessment
In 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), the Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and CLF partnered to conduct a rapid health impact assessment (HIA) to evaluate the potential health impacts of an HNEF investment in Roxbury. This HIA focused on ways that TOD could affect health, including
- Walkability and active transport
- Affordable, green housing
- Green space
- Healthy, affordable food access
- Traffic safety
- Air quality and environmental contamination
- Economic opportunity
- Social cohesion
Getting input from area residents and others who have a stake in the community’s health is an essential step in HIA. Ben Wood, Healthy Community Design Coordinator at MDPH, commented on the value of local citizen participation. “Resident input gave us a comprehensive overview of the different ways that transit-oriented development projects can influence how people get around in their community, access goods and services in their community, and interact with fellow residents, as well as how these projects impact health. Community input helped us better define what health effects to consider in the HIA process.”
The Healthy Neighborhoods Equity Fund HIA found that the three proposed TOD projects within Roxbury would have an overall positive health impact in the neighborhood. It recommended strategies to reduce negative impacts and maximize opportunities to improve health. The HIA results will guide the development process for the three TOD projects. The HIA also helped HNEF
- Decide on the health measurements and statistics they will use to demonstrate the link between TOD and health outcomes, and
- Attract interested developers and potential investors by sharing the anticipated social and economic changes that could result from HNEF-supported projects.
To learn more, access the following resources:
- Healthy Community Design in Massachusetts
- Health Impact Assessment, Healthy Community Design Initiative, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Healthy Neighborhoods Equity Fund
- International CPTED Association
- State of Place Tool
- Page last reviewed: March 1, 2016
- Page last updated: March 1, 2016
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